Leapfrogging Technology

Leapfrogging was how the Thailand’s Prime Minister described his vision of Thailand moving up the manufacturing value chain. Thaksin Shinawatra named the country’s auto assembly and auto parts industries as candidates for this ambitious undertaking (The Nation Editorial – 10 June 2004).

“If the frog is to jump a long distance, it needs to leap from hard ground. This is supposed to be food for thought, for now,” he was quoted as saying to a group of reporters at Government House.

The editorial writer responded by using the boiling frog analogy. “For the frog – by which Thaksin means Thailand – to take this proposed leap of faith, it will need to be rescued from the heated-up water in the pan, by which we mean the government’s manipulation of the population’s unprincipled wants and needs with its populist policies, chief among them the oil price controls which are cushioning both industry and consumers. Like the frog, Thais cannot be expected to get strong or competitive by staying in the “comfort zone” forever. If Thaksin wants it to leap, he should avoid boiling it.”

So is it possible for developing nations in Asia-Pacific to leapfrog over outdated technologies causing environmental damage in their production, use or disposal? Or are they forever condemned to play catch up with developed countries and remain “boiling frogs” rather than champion leapers? Apart from the obvious example of the mobile phone, what are some of the possibilities?

Does anyone out there have any views on the most likely forms of outdated technology that developing countries could avoid by leapfrogging ahead?

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